Friday, June 17, 2011
Vintage People on Photo Postcards
The transfer of my archive to the Bodleian Library might have felt like parcelling up one foot and posting it direct to the grave. But it has not been like that at all: the opposite in fact, for out of that arrangement has come new life for a long cherished project.
For twenty years I have been collecting real photo postcards of anonymous people. They all date from that period when portraiture suddenly became democratised. At the beginning of the twentieth century all manner of people, not just the wealthy, could for the first time in history possess their likenesses. What resulted was an inadvertent and unofficial visual census of the country.
Out of over a million of such cards that have passed though my hands I have brought together fifty thousand or so which now, in albums and boxes, crowd out what passes for my kitchen. They are grouped under titles that announce the obsessive typologist, Two Men, Tree, Pram, Bather, Nurse etc.
I exhibited a selection of these cards in 2004 at the National Portrait Gallery in a show whose catalogue, We Are The People should now be seen as a trailer to this current series of books published by the Bodleian itself. Readers was the natural first title in what promises to be an extensive but not expensive sequence produced by one of the world's great libraries.
Issued at the same time was Women & Hats. Weddings and Bicycles appeared soon after with the same generic rubric Vintage People on Photo Postcards. All four are now available and more are to follow. Watch this space: start clearing a shelf.